W.R. Grace Accused of Failing to Disclose Information About Asbestos, Asbestos Diseases
Zonolite Mine Contaminated Entire Town of Libby With Asbestos
MISSOULA, MT — February 8, 2005 — W.R. Grace and seven top executives conspired to release asbestos and to hide health problems at its asbestos–contaminated vermiculite mine in Libby, Montana, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. A grand jury indictment accuses the company of exposing its employees to asbestos, failing to disclose air monitoring results, interfering with an investigation by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and giving away asbestos–containing vermiculite to schools and local residents. Charges include clean–air act violations and wire fraud as well as conspiracy.
Based on an estimated $140 million profit from vermiculite products, Grace now faces fines of up to $280 million dollars (Bloomberg News, February 7, 2005). It filed for bankruptcy in 2001, amid a deluge of asbestos injury claims. Libby, Montana was declared a Superfund disaster area in 2002, and the EPA has already spent over $54 million in cleanup costs. A court has ordered Grace to reimburse the EPA for its expenses, but any payment must be approved by the bankruptcy court.
Asbestos–Contaminated Vermiculite Shipped Throughout The Nation
From 1963 through 1990, Grace operated a vermiculite mine in Libby that was contaminated with asbestos. Used in soil conditioners and insulation, vermiculite is a metal ore that can be “popped” and heated to form a light–weight, fire–resistant substance. The Libby vermiculite was shipped to factories throughout the nation, endangering workers who were exposed to asbestos during processing.
Consumers may also have been exposed to the asbestos in vermiculite. By some estimates, vermiculite insulation may be found in over 35 million homes nationwide. Drilling into this insulation can produce asbestos dust. If the insulation becomes frayed or damaged, it may release asbestos fibers. See Property Damage from Zonolite Attic Insulation.
High Rate of Asbestos Disease in Libby
Asbestos exposure remains a major issue in Libby, both for the miners who breathed in asbestos fibers, and for their families, who may have been exposed to asbestos dust carried home on the workers’ shoes and clothing. Other residents came into contact with asbestos in schools and businesses. The indictment against Grace cites examples of asbestos contamination at running tracks, an ice–skating rink, and a baseball field.
People living in Libby have suffered from serious asbestos diseases, including asbestosis and the cancer mesothelioma. The grand jury indictment charges that Grace knew about such diseases among its employees as early as 1976.
A government report shows that for the period from 1979–1998, the death rate among Libby residents from asbestosis was about 40 times higher than the rest of Montana and 60 times higher than the rest of the United States (Mortality in Libby, Montana, 1979–1998, ATSDR). Another study reported pleural scarring and other lung abnormalities in 18% of participants in a Libby medical testing program (Year 2000 Medical Testing of Individuals Potentially Exposed To Asbestoform Minerals, ATSDR). Because asbestos diseases usually take decades to develop, we may only be seeing the beginning of the disease epidemic in Libby.
For more information about asbestos contamination and cleanup in Libby, see the EPA Region 8 web site.